Preparing your child for a hospital experience

Mar 21, 2010 at 4:05 p.m. ET

Healthcare experiences,including hospitalization and medical procedures, can be very stressful for children of all ages. Preparing children ahead of time for the things they may experience during their healthcare visit will reduce much of their anxiety, as well as help them cope.

Child in hospital bed

Providing your child with honest, accurate information will help to alleviate many of his/her fears and fantasies about what will happen. Talk with your child about the upcoming event. Give your child a chance to tell you how he/she is feeling and ask questions. Your child may be worrying about something that will not happen. Being honest with your child will help him/her trust you and the people he/she will meet at the doctor's office or hospital.

Tips to help you prepare your child

  • The more a child knows in advance about what to expect of any healthcare situation, the more comfortable he or she will be.
  • If your child is under the age of 5, you should talk to him/her within one to two days of the experience. Older children should have progressively more time to get information and ask questions. (e.g. a few days to a week)
  • You may be tempted to tell your child things that are not true. If something will hurt, say so.
  • Be honest. If you do not know the answer to your child's question, tell your child that you do not know, but that you will find out.
  • Use simple words that your child will understand.
  • Encourage your child to discuss feelings and/or ask questions about the upcoming experience with you, but be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.
  • If your child is being admitted to the Hospital, the following tips may be helpful in addition to those above.
  • Emphasize that the hospital stay is temporary.
  • Reassure your child that you will visit often and will stay overnight if this is the case.
  • Pack together for the hospital stay and include the things your child wants with him/her in the hospital. For example, your child may be able to wear his/her own pajamas.
  • Point out similarities between the hospital and home such as regular meals, chances to play and having one's own bed.
  • Include your entire family in one of your 'pre-hospital' talks.
  • Borrow a library book that describes a hospital stay and read it with your child.
  • Inquire about any tours or preparation programs that the hospital may provide (e.g. Day Surgery Tour)

Provided by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

About The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Today, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the leading pediatric hospitals and research facilities in the world. Our 150 years of innovation and service to our patients, their families and our community reflect an ongoing commitment to exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare providers and pioneering significant research initiatives.